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Waste Management: CAN’T DUMP THE ISSUE, By Dr S Saraswathi, 1 March, 2013 Print E-mail

Events & Issues  

New Delhi, 1 March 2013

Waste Management


By Dr S Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


One proposal in the Union Budget which craves attention sadly went unnoticed. On Environment, Finance Minister P Chidambaram noted: “India tosses out several thousand tonnes of garbage each day. We will evolve a scheme to encourage cities and municipalities to take up waste-to-energy projects in Public-Private-Partnership which would be neutral to different technologies.”


In addition, he proposed to support municipalities that will implement waste-to-energy projects through different instruments such as viability gap funding, repayable grant and low cost capital. The move is indeed welcome. Likewise, the Railway Ministry’s declaration to ensure progressive extension of bio-toilets on trains, which was widely reported, deserves kudos.


Both with good reason as statistics reveal that: India is next only to Ethiopia with 49.8% of households with no toilet facility; India’s garbage generation is 0.2 kg to 0.6 kg per head per day; Toxic wastes are dumped side by side with organic wastes in suburban dumping grounds; Waterways are choked with domestic wastes, etc.


These are a few facts about the state of waste generation and disposal in the 21st century India.  Truly, a sorry state of affairs, which compels urgent remedial action.


Urban refuse problem is growing day by day, but has not been receiving required attention of either the public or the authorities.  As it has presently become unmanageable in the metropolitan cities in India, it is realized that it is no less important than provision of drinking water and electricity and needs immediate short-term and long-term solutions. And, thank god at least the Finance Minister has taken note.


Waste disposal in India is not just an environmental issue linked with public health. It is a baffling multi-dimensional problem. The country needs a toilet revolution, modern techniques of collection and disposal of different types of wastes, and along with these, a mindset to eradicate the very notion of scavenging as the profession of a caste or as the “customary right” of some castes.


Waste management is an important area of public health engineering now also known as environmental engineering. It is linked with sustainable development – a concept that emphasizes our duty to protect the environment for posterity while going ahead with development.


It is a field that absolutely requires public-private cooperation. Solid waste is plentiful, unwieldy, polluting, and even hazardous. It is mainly the creation of human activities. The more the activities, the larger the volume of wastes.  Urbanization and industrialization caused by expansion of human activities have intensified the problem of waste disposal.


The advent of plastics and global conquest of televisions, computers and mobile phones have introduced unimaginable volume of non-degradable wastes throughout the world.  The composition of waste is also getting more and more complicated with the arrival of more synthetics, new chemical compounds, and increasing organic material.


The traditional attitude of “out of sight, out of mind” exhibited in throwing domestic garbage on public streets to be collected, sorted, and disposed of by municipal authorities is no longer workable. Sorting garbage at the source – in every house, restaurant, shop, office, etc. – is unavoidable if we are not to get crushed under the weight of garbage mountains in the cities and fall a prey to diseases.        


The technology for reuse and recycling has to be developed. For, garbage crisis is bound to defeat the old methods of incineration and landfills which also have polluting effects. A more serious problem in waste management in India is something which even children do not speak in public.


There was wide hue and cry when sometime back Union Minister for Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh, made a fact-based observation that India needs more toilets than temples.  The statement may hurt the sentiments of devout Hindus, but one cannot dispute the urgency for bringing about a toilet revolution in the country that will address the type as well as the number.


People who willingly give donations to build temples and organize festivals are not so willing to sponsor construction of public convenience and promote sanitation facilities. No better illustration of this is needed than the state of towns and cities during major temple festivals that attract large crowds. Public space gets converted to a totally private use without anybody’s permission. Consent is taken for granted.


It is well known that one of the major reasons for heavy drop-out of girl students without completing even elementary level is lack of basic sanitary facilities in many schools in rural areas.  The Supreme Court in a judgement given in October last directed the Union and State governments to provide basic infrastructure including drinking water and toilets in all schools within six months, that is, before end of March 2013.


The court has also observed that schools that do not provide these basic facilities are violating the right to free and compulsory education guaranteed under Article 21A of the Constitution.


It is worth mentioning here that the Government of Tamil Nadu has instituted a cash prize of Rs. five lakh to village panchayats which achieve 100 per cent sanitation under a scheme to make the state an “Open Defecation Free State”. Sanitary complexes are constructed for men, women, and with special facilities for the elderly and the disabled.


The “Clean Village Movement” initiated in this State includes setting up bio-gas plants for waste treatment and recycling drainage water. The Government of India has launched a campaign named “no lavatory, no bride” asking girls to reject potential suitors if they cannot provide an in-house lavatory.


 An interesting historical fact may be pointed out here that Kautilya’s “Arthashastra” mentions that during the Maurya rule in pre-Christian era, open defecation in towns was prohibited.


Persistence of manual scavenging is the worst aspect of waste management in India. Worse still is the lingering association of this occupation with particular castes looked down as “defiling” castes in the old order.   


The National Scheme of Liberation of Scavengers was launched by the Central Ministry of Welfare in 1991. A National Commission for Safai Karamcharis was also created in 1994. The Parliament passed the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines Bill in 1993 to abolish both. But, time limit was not fixed for implementation which nullifies the effect of the legislation.


Total abolition of manual scavenging is the crux of toilet revolution urgently needed in this country as central to waste management. The Government has offered to support the municipalities. Resource constraint can therefore be no reason for inaction. Let us not waste any more precious time. If there is a will there is a way. --- INFA 


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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